I recently had the opportunity to write a book review for our church newsletter. I was very appreciative to be asked do so. And a big thanks my wonderful wife for being editor who helped me condense the review from 1,200 words down to less than 800. Below is the review.
Do you know God or just know about Him? Do you seek to know God through Scripture or through personal experience? Are you skeptical about the Bible being divine revelation from God?
In Knowing God, J.I. Packer sets out to answer who God is as revealed in the Bible and how we are to know Him. Packer asserts that ‘ignorance of God’ is seen as the root weakness in today’s church. He examines the ignorance of God’s ways, and also as they relate to daily living. (12)
To address these issues Packer breaks the book into three main sections. I. Know the Lord, II. Behold Your God! III. If God Be For Us . . .
I. Know the Lord
Here Packer starts with the “Study of God,” which is theology, and explains the importance of it. He also handles objections to studying theology. “Disregard the study of God, and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder though life blindfolded… (19) Five basic principles for knowing God are laid out as a guide. In brief, they are 1. the Bible, 2. God is Lord, 3. God is Savior, 4. God is triune and 5. living by God’s Word. (20)
Packer moves on to explain that this knowledge of God must be applied to daily living. The first section of the book will challenge the reader on what it means to know God and for God to know him.
II. Behold Your God!
This section surveys the characteristics of God and how they are displayed in His actions. This is the longest section of the book, and this brief description will not do justice to its depth. Packer moves from God being unchanging and majestic, and then through other characteristics such as wisdom, love, grace, justice, etc. He contrasts God and man, showing how man should act and think of himself in light of God’s revelation of Himself.
Packer explains that while God gives wisdom about Himself to Christians, this does not give them the ability to understand the secret purposes of God. (101) He further explains that wisdom helps us depend on God and live godly lives.
Packer’s in depth exploration on the love of God will help the reader gain a fuller understanding of what the Bible reveals in this area. For example, Packer explains that the phrase “God is love” is one of the most misunderstood statements in the Bible. (117) Following love is the understanding of God’s grace. Packer explains that many churched people don’t have a concept of grace. (129) “Grace and salvation belong together as cause and effect.” (132)
Packer teaches that in trying to grasp the wisdom, love and grace of God there is the often overlooked wrath, justice, jealousy and the relation of goodness and severity. He explains that there are more references in Scripture of God’s anger, fury and wrath than of God’s love. (149) Packer paints a picture in these chapters so that the reader can see the greatness of God, and his own helplessness.
III. If God Be For Us…
Here Packer comes to the Gospel and the concept of adoption as children of God. “The Gospel tells us that our Creator has become our Redeemer.” (189) Packer demonstrates that God is also our guide. He shows that, for many, guidance is a chronic problem. (230) He purports that the basic mistake is looking inward for a prompting of the Holy Spirit apart from the written word. (234) Packer reveals that the essence of Christianity is found by knowing God in Christ. (278)
Knowing God is a classic on the basics of who God is. First printed in 1973, it was re-printed in 1993 for its 20 year anniversary. The utility of this book ranges from personal devotion to small group settings. There is also an optional study guide available. Knowing God is practically useful by systematically spelling out who God is and how to know Him in a biblical framework.
New and maturing Christians will find this book useful yet challenging, and may find it helpful to work through it with a mentor. More mature Christians will also be fed by its teachings. Some readers may be challenged by the theological vocabulary that Packer uses, but this is another opportunity to learn and grow. Knowing God will help the reader understand biblically who God is and who we are in Jesus Christ. This book is not only relevant to today’s Christian, it is an essential read.
J.I. Packer is Board of Governors’ Professor, Theology, Regent College. MA, DPhil (Oxford). He recently celebrated is 82nd birthday.